Welcome to The Dean’s List! The Dean’s List will profile up-and-comers in Memphis who are certain to be the next group of leaders in the nonprofit, corporate, government, and faith communities. The Dean’s List is curated by Kevin Dean, the Executive Director of Literacy Mid-South.
Joe McClusky can talk about the Avengers as well as he can about law and justice. This Memphis-born criminal defense attorney is a dad, husband, and avid fan boy who decided to stay in his hometown to build a career and raise a family. The son of an electrician and a lawyer, Joe graduated from White Station High School in 1999 and received a BA in language and linguistics from the University of Memphis in 2004. He followed his bachelors with a JD from the University of Memphis School of Law. At only 34, he is already a Partner at Massey McClusky McClusky & Fuchs. (Editor’s Note: He was also in a great band called Two Way Radio that appeared in Craig Brewer’s 5 Dollar Cover and had several showcases at SXSW!)
We chose Joe for the Dean’s List because of his potential to become a major player as an attorney in Memphis and his ongoing commitment to the city of Memphis. We can’t wait to see what Joe does next!
Why do you choose Memphis over another city?
Memphis is home. There are certainly other cities that I love, but I’d rather build Memphis up than just walk away.
Name three people in Memphis who you would consider to be mentors.
William Massey, Lorna McClusky, and Pete Savage. Bill and Lorna, or Mom as I know her, are two of the finest attorneys I have ever seen, and both are always willing to give me time and answer any questions I have, regardless of how ridiculous. Pete is a family friend who is just an amazing person. He has always been there for me and my family. He always treats people with kindness and respect. I cannot think of a better person that continuously sets such a good example. And his kids are just great.
Being a criminal defense lawyer, you probably see and hear some pretty terrible things. How do you unwind and relax at the end of a stressful day?
There’s nothing a stack of comic books and a good beer can’t fix. If time allows, I enjoy going on a hike too. Memphis has some surprisingly pretty and easily accessible trails. It’s fun introducing my kids to all the comic characters I love and all the wildlife and beauty in the area. They’re too young to be introduced to the local beers, but that’s ok. More for me.
How do you reconcile your love of Memphis with the stories you hear on a daily basis?
As a criminal defense attorney, I see some of the worst the city has to offer, but even the worst offender has a mother, and getting to meet those people that just can’t give up on their loved ones regardless of what they’ve done or been accused of, that’s incredibly inspiring. Reading the news, it’s easy to forget that behind each story is a person. It’s important to me to know those people and understand that they aren’t just headlines or statistics. They are people. With mothers. With fathers. With children. And these people come and just let the love and support flow. Getting to know so many people from so many walks of life has made me value Memphis as a city of hidden community. There’s so much love and vibrancy just under the surface. We need to tap that.
You have two adorable little boys. What do you envision for Memphis as a place to live by the time they are your age?
Thanks. I love my little guys. Thankfully they’re both happy, healthy kids into Star Wars, superheroes, dinosaurs, and LEGOs, so we have a lot in common. My hope is that the city they inherit will have fewer racial barriers and lines. Racial and income inequality are two huge hurdles for our city, but I hope that by the time my kids are adults these problems are at least being addressed in a meaningful, forward-thinking way both on a large scale and at a personal level. Ideally Memphis will one day become a mecca of intercultural togetherness where our diversity is celebrated.
What’s your favorite restaurant in Memphis?
I love Hog & Hominy. I could eat there every day of the week. That said, I think I eat from Aldo’s Midtown and Taqueria Guadalupana on Austin Peay more than any other restaurants. Pizza and tacos are my two favorite food groups.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen in Memphis?
Some guy used to go jogging every morning down Jackson Avenue, which isn’t so strange, except that he did it with boxing shorts, boxing boots, and boxing gloves, throwing punches the whole time. My morning commute has changed, so I don’t know if he’s still out there, running and punching, but I hope he is.
What’s the one part of Memphis that you couldn’t live without?
We have an amazing comic book store. Whenever I go out of town, I check out the comic shops and few if any can compare with Comics and Collectibles. And generally when I get to go to the comic book store, that’s my me time, which is important.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
In a house with at least two bathrooms. Mornings are ridiculous with only one.
What’s the one misconception people have about Memphis that is simply untrue?
That we’re some wretched hive of scum and villainy. Memphis is a pretty nice town that really isn’t that dangerous. And even if it were, it would be completely worth it for the food.
What area of town is your favorite and why?
I’ve always loved the University District area around the University of Memphis. It’s a very convenient part of town. East Memphis and Midtown are each just minutes away, so it never really takes long to get anywhere. Grocery shopping is easy, and there are several cool bars like RP Tracks and The Beer Garden among others. The CK’s on Highland remains my favorite breakfast spot in Memphis, and with Café Eclectic right across the street, I can now get a decent cup of coffee to go with said breakfast. I keep hoping the Highland Strip will make a comeback, and with the development of Highland Row, it looks like that may be in sight. It’s a nice, laid back part of town with people from all walks of life.
What do you have to say to the Memphis haters out there?
I love Memphis, but I recognize that it has many flaws. I see plenty of people, especially those that don’t live here, just bash Memphis, but I also see plenty of people with a kind of “we’re glad you’re gone” response, and that bothers me. I hold no animosity for the haters. In fact, I would love to bring them back. Our city will only improve by embracing multiple viewpoints and having everyone work together to build the city up. And not all of the criticism is off point. I’d love to know why people leave the city and what we can do to (a) keep others from leaving and (b) get those people back.
What is one thing you’re most excited about for Memphis?
Memphis Comic Expo. Donnie Juengling of Comics and Collectibles has put together this amazing comic convention. This October, two of my favorite creators, Peter David and George Perez, will be guests. I’m very excited to get the chance to meet them in person, and I’m excited that Memphis is growing such an impressive convention. But I guess that’s just more of our grit and grind on parade.